Our world is all but digitized. Analogue is becoming a thing of the past, and will likely die with my parents generation, or my own. It will be seen as something collectible, cool, retro, and unique, but nevertheless, dead. Yes, people still flip through books, buy records, and learn instruments, but for how much longer? The pushing of tactile buttons, pulling of levers, and turning of knobs, is about to disappear. Soon the distinction between being online and offline will fade. There will be no offline, and thus, no online. Everything and everyone will be forever connected. If we want to disconnect, we’ll have to painstakingly go out out of our way to do so.
If you are like me, then you feel amiss when you can’t get online. Usually it happens when visiting parents, grandparents, or rural friends. On one occasion – before I bothered to turn on my laptop – I asked someone what their Wifi password was. They stared at me blankly for a few seconds, before uttering, “Wifi?” The horror. The horror.
But, honestly, there is a certain anxiety that comes over people in my generation when we can’t connect. Technology critics and primitivists usually claim that this anxiety is innately bad, and stems from my generation’s need for instant gratification. But what’s so bad about instant gratification? Should I have to work to find the information I want, or need, when it is conveniently at my fingertips? Shouldn’t information be easy to access?
Then again, maybe I am too “connected”. Half of my daydreaming is spent in my head, the other half online. To an outsider – typically someone over forty – it must look strange. Blue links highlighted. Flashing windows. Twenty tabs open. Music playing. Headphones on. Lukewarm coffee on desk. Occasionally, I feel less like a person, and more like an amoeba that feeds on tweets, notifications, and followers.
Enter my parent’s generation. The first thing to notice is their sociality. Older people are always talking, or always listening. Rarely are they absorbed in some task on a computer, hunched over with a stiff neck and squinting eyes. (That is, unless they are trying to find the vexatious, “forward to all” button). Older generations can get lost in a conversation; yet, their conversations lack something. They tend to get stuck on bits of information that, for the life of them, they cannot remember.
Who was that actresses name? What was that restaurant in San Francisco called? How can we get to the freeway from here? Questions always linger when talking to older people. This isn’t because they have bad memories – though they certainly can – but, because they aren’t whipping out their phones, or flinging open their laptops. There is an odd elegance to this. I have to remind myself that for my parents, the world isn’t about information, or, “instant gratification”. My mother spends her time watching classic films, visiting family, and reading books. My father rides his mountain bike, shoots guns, and fixes things.
I can’t tell if he particularly enjoys this last activity, as much of the time it is littered with “fuck”, and “god damn it”. (Edit: he claims he only cusses when he can’t fix things).
My parent’s generation have a laudable simplicity about them. They are sometimes frustrating, asking us to hook up their internet for fix their computers, but those things are essentially foreign to them. Our parents don’t really belong in the digital world, they just visit it. They are record players, and we are iPods. Besides, I can’t pretend I’m entirely used to our digital world either. I still remember the days of connecting to the internet through screeching analogue dial tones, so that I could work on my geocities website into the tiny hours of the morning, or until someone called and I was disconnected. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my generation was the last to grow up before the Internet became truly monolithic. From now on, children will grow up in the shadow of that monolith. While it may be frightening, I think younger generations will be fine. My niece and nephew’s computer skills already rival their parents, and none are over the age of six.
So, how is my generation – the information generation – handling things? How can we begin to answer this question? Information is violently changing our lives. The Arab world has ignited with social protests, partially catalyzed by social media. WikiLeaks has released over 400,000 confidential government documents. The Occupy movement is still going strong, with rallies being organized online. The first digital currency showed signs of being practical. For the first time, Artificial Intelligence is being used widely, (even if it is rather silly). And, somewhere, a twenty-two year old kid writes a blog post about all of it, which could be seen by millions. (I said could.)
My generation is starving for useful, thoughtful, intelligent, and inspiring information. If we want to learn how to do something — anything — we can google it, and be on our way; there’s even a how-to-do-everything podcast. If that weren’t enough, Wikipedia has an entry on just about everything, with all links eventually leading back to philosophy. We can learn about the fundamental stuff of the universe – or whatever philosophers ramble about — with a few mouse clicks. For those of us that don’t like reading, there are infographics and videos on every topic out there. When we aren’t absorbing information, we’re expressing ourselves by the millions, through sites like DeviantArt, Flickr, Tumblr, Etsy, WordPress, and more. Perhaps we are too entitled, too lazy, or too impatient, but, we aren’t stupid. I don’t accept that. We have access to more information than any other generation, and we are using it. We are becoming smarter with the information we are using, even if much of it drips through the cracks of obnoxious YouTube videos and incomprehensible memes. Perhaps I’m being sophomoric, but I think the internet is fundamentally good, because knowledge is fundamentally good. Maybe that crazy greek bastard was onto something when he said, “The only good is knowledge, the only evil is ignorance”. And, if you don’t know who I’m talking about, just google it.